The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art Assembles Dry Wit

By D.K. Sole

Aware that the city where we live is often portrayed as a glossy, one-dimensional place, we looked into the museum collection for work that suggested the opposite—roughness, surprise, and contrast. Dry Wit: Artworks from the Collection of the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art began to evolve.

That decision led us to artworks made from found objects or things the artists had come across unexpectedly, like Alexa Hoyer’s Assemblage with Pallet, 2015, a portrait of a handmade target the photographer found at an unregulated firing range in the desert near Jean. Her cool framing treats the ramshackle, half-destroyed target like a formal sculpture, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the absent guns being shifted into an unfamiliar role—that of sculptors’ tools carving out new shapes at the same time they destroy the form that once was there.

We had to think about the unfamiliar size of the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery we were installing in and keep in mind that it was also a working office, as well as an event space. Brian Zimmerman’s delicate, breakable Weakness, 2012, was removed from consideration because it looked misleadingly like a piece of usable furniture. Most of the pieces we chose were wall mounted, like Stephen Antonakos’ collages made from soap, stamps, and other detritus he found at his hotel while he was on holiday in Greece. The connection to hotels seemed significant. Las Vegas has a lot of hotels.

Antonakos’ bravura gesture – look! I can make art anywhere! – linked back to the artworks by Justin Favela and Ramiro Gomez we were exhibiting in the museum at the time we were putting Dry Wit together. Favela and Gomez had employed cardboard, paper, crayons, the kind of materials anyone can use, and we admired that affirmation of accessibility. Yes, you can make art, even if all you have is a twig, string, and the bar of soap you saw on your pillow when you walked into your hotel room.

That sense of discovery moves through Dry Wit—Jean Giguet finds a new purpose for food cans. Andrew Schoultz investigates a flag while Jenna Gribbon proposes a detective story. Ash Ferlito and Matt Taber try to find out what happens if you group everything in the world according to color, and Thomas Ray Willis playfully inverts Marcel Duchamp. Eric LoPresti searches for a new form of the atomic sublime by depicting a bomb crater and the bell of a desert flower together at the same scale, and Joyce Straus realizes that the medium of coloring books will allow her to reframe “Sin City” as a friendly hometown.

Once we included Mikayla Whitmore’s photograph of the artist Aaron Sheppard dressed in a found-object mermaid costume we saw how a set of beaded cigarettes by the Native American artist Noelle Garcia could respond to the American Spirit cigarette packet in his hand. That was the kind of discovery we were making as we fitted this new curation together, and we’re grateful to Nevada Humanities for encouraging us to look at these familiar artworks with fresh eyes.

D.K. Sole came to the U.S. from Melbourne, Australia. She has worked in Education and Research at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art since 2012. Dry Wit is on display at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery in Las Vegas until September 25, 2019.

Images/Javier Sanchez

Artwork credits:

1. Eric LoPresti, Sedan Crater and Lewisia as Lotus, both 2015, watercolor, pencil on paper; and Joyce Straus, The Great Las Vegas Coloring Book, 1975, paper.

2. Jean Giguet, Untitled, 1990, wood, metal, cans; and Stephen Antonakos, Untitled Travel Collage, Athens, May 17, 1991 D, 1991, and Untitled Travel Collage, Athens, July 15, 2000 #3, 2000, both mixed media collages.

3. Mikayla Whitmore, American Spirit (Documentation of Aaron Sheppard’s Bearded and Shucked), 2016, archival metallic ink jet print; and Andrew Schoultz, Made in China (Gold Flag), 2018, acrylic and gold leaf on American flag.

4. Alexa Hoyer, Assemblage with Pallet, 2015, archival pigment print on Dibond; Jean Giguet, Untitled, 1990, wood, metal, cans; and Stephen Antonakos, Untitled Travel Collage, Athens, May 17, 1991 D, 1991, mixed media collage.

Aliza Pantoja